This Mobius Strip of Ifs
Mathias B. Freese
When I received This Mobius Strip of Ifs by Mathias Freese for review, I knew I would have to carefully consider my mindset at the time of reading. I had reviewed Freese's previous books, The I Tetralogy and Down to a Sunless Sea, some time ago and I know the author's writing tone is pretty heavy. Freese takes on some pretty depressing subject matter, and it's hard not to spiral into that depression due to his captivating writing. What I like most about Freese's books is that he is not afraid to speak his mind, put things quite bluntly, and deliver a little jolt to the reader with some controversy. This Mobius Strip of Ifs did not disappoint me.
However, I went back and forth through the course of reading it about how to approach a review. I found that every time I sat down to write a review, I would summarize one of Freese's essays, then go on a tangent about how I either agreed or disagreed with his premise. I was essentially writing essays of my own. I decided I needed to step away and approach this review in a different manner.
First, to give you an idea of the subject matter, Freese's essays cover his life experiences from childhood right through the present day. They include episodes from his time as a teacher, as a psychotherapist, as a writer, and the raw emotion associated with his daughter's suicide and his wife's accidental death. Freese makes his own observations of injustice, indifference, and oversight in education, as well as his views of the world at large. Much of his subject matter is tied to the Holocaust and his own Jewish heritage.
Freese's view of the world is a bleak one. His essays don't hold much hope for humanity at all, and he even references his own "orneriness". Keep that in mind when you pick up this book. If you're looking for a feel-good story, this is not the one for you.
That said, though I found I both agreed and disagreed with Freese's observations, the important part was that it made me think. I'm already one to question the reality of anything before me, but reading Freese's essays just reminded me of how different each person's life experiences can be, and how they approach each experience differently based on their past. For example, I was thinking as I read of Freese's opinion of one of his students--how the child was destined to be dismally average and basically nothing more of a shell, I thought how easily that child could have been me. I might have easily exhibited the same attributes of the boy in question, and had Freese been my teacher, he would have labeled me and given up hope before I even had a chance to start.
Of course, Freese's essay on review bloggers hit home for me, not only because I was quoted in this one (my very eloquent response of "holy cow"), but because his experience of bloggers was so vastly different from my own. Granted, I can definitely see how he comes to his conclusions, but I felt like he was basing his opinion of an entire group of people based on a few incidents. Because of this, I think he failed to see what a warm and supportive group bloggers can be, and how many are genuine in their reviews and avoid the snarkiness in which others might revel. Just like society at large, there are always going to be bad seeds in the group who bring everyone down. I hope he has changed his opinion since that particular essay.
See how easy that was for me to dip into my own opinionated essay? Whether you agree with Freese or not, in the least you come away with a different worldview and something that may give you cause for further investigation. Although no matter how closely Freese's words touched me, I could not find it in my psyche to deface a book by writing in the margins. Sorry, Mr. Freese. I'm one of those people. :)
To summarize, This Mobius Strip of Ifs is a collection of essays that will prompt your own reflection on life and humanity. Through Mathias Freese, you can see a cause for action, or resign yourself to inaction. The choice is yours, but the book will likely prompt an internal debate (maybe even an external debate if you feel so inclined), and at the least force you to face some dismal realities that might come close to home.
And Death Dreamt Us Allby Cheryl Anne Gardner
2010, Twisted Knickers
Cheryl Anne Gardner is by far one of my favorite authors. Have I said that before? I probably have because her books are like gold to me (ask the ex-boyfriend who has yet to return my beloved copy of The Thin Wall--he's lucky I haven't pursued legal action because I was able to get another autographed copy thanks to Cheryl's help). Anyway, the reason I adore Gardner's books so much is she puts all those deviant little thoughts we have, but would never say, into print. Her books push social norms and illustrate how close we are to crossing the line into what we'd typically label insanity.
Gardner's latest work of art is And Death Dreamt Us All, the story of a sullen forensic photographer haunted by her subjects, but being stalked by something far more gruesome and terrifying than a mutilated body left decaying for a few weeks. Rowan is still haunted by memories of a lost love--the boyfriend she lost to an accident as a child. She's never recovered from the imprint of that traumatic event, and feels the need to wallow in self-loathing and despair to punish herself for events that were out of her control.
Rowan finds a certain degree of comfort in her relationship with a psychologist, but she distrusts his motives and feels that he gets a perverse satisfaction from playing mind games with her. Her recounting the gruesome crime scenes she photographs turns him on, but she accepts his advances as another form of punishment for the sins only she seems to think she has committed. Everything for Rowan is a form of punishment, and as the story progresses, even waking up and interacting with society becomes a form of retribution for her tortured soul.
And Death Dreamt Us All takes us on a journey into madness, but I think Gardner's real point is that humanity is essentially already mad, by our definition. And what is actually mad is merely a matter of perspective. Pain and torture can actually be forms of release and each and every one of us is just a few thoughts away from plunging headlong into official "insanity". She unflinchingly points out the dark side every human harbors.
I absolutely adore Cheryl Anne Gardner's books, but I find when it's actually time to sit down and write a review, I suddenly have a case of writer's block. I think this is because Gardner's writing style is so eloquent, and her knack for observation and describing the depth of human thought and emotion so acute that anything I can write sounds like the ramblings of a third-grader after spending some time leafing through her prose. If you want to read something that challenges your mind and forces you to question your sense of reality (which I do), then And Death Dreamt Us All is for you. She packs a hell of a lot of philosophical and psychological torment (hence pleasure) into the brief pages of a novella.